On Saturday, December 17, the noontime shoppers at the Portland Saturday Market were going about their consumption undisturbed, when they began to notice an unusual crowd slowly gathering around Skidmore Fountain. Men and women dressed in Santa Claus outfits were mingling, admiring each other's costumes, the variety of which was remarkable. Slut Santas in platforms and fur-trimmed mini dresses chatted alongside a Santa in a Mexican wrestling mask, pirate Santas, reindeer, an accordion-playing Santa, Elvis Santa, clown Santas, Jesus, jailbird Santas, and dozens of other get-ups festooned with everything from capes to giant sunglasses to Mardi Gras beads.
These were the participants in SantaCon '05, 11 years after the original event was held in San Francisco. SantaCon is the brainchild of the Cacophony Society—an international, if loose, affiliation of offbeat creatives and weirdos whose countercultural activities are similar in spirit to both Dadaism and anarchy. Originally something of an anti-consumerist statement, SantaCon is a gathering of "Santas" who band together and invade towns across the world, disrupting shopping centers, crowding public transportation, and mobbing bars and strip clubs.
Although primarily a fun-loving and positive event, SantaCons have been known to occasionally get out of control, in large part due to the staggering amount of alcohol consumption involved. In fact, unbeknownst to the Santas at the fountain, a SantaCon riot would erupt in Auckland, New Zealand, the very next day, involving looting, arrests, and minor injuries.
But the crowd gathered on Saturday was cheerful and enthusiastic, secretly sucking down Jello shots and sipping bottles of "water" and "soda"—cleverly disguised cocktails. Eventually, the ranks of Santas grew to about 200, and the crowd began weaving through the market, shouting, "Buy more stuff!" to amused and confused shoppers.
Their first stop was the Cabaret strip club, where the Santas had trouble squeezing themselves into the building. The DJ played filthy Christmas song spoofs about blowjobs and fake tits, as the first stripper grumpily complained, "I am not going to dance to this." Several Santas took to the open stage, dancing to Usher, until the DJ announced, "Ho, ho, ho! Santa's gotta go!"
The red river of tipsy Santas poured back into the street, stopping traffic, as two hipster girls saw the approaching mob and ran off in the opposite direction. The next stop was in front of the recently defunct Hung Far Low restaurant/bar for a moment of silence, before proceeding to the waterfront. It was now time for the "Reindeer Games" in which Santas competed in "elf-tossing" competitions with costumed sandbags, a Santa band of drums and guitars played off-key carols as the crowd sang along, and chunks of fruitcake were catapulted into the Willamette by way of a red trebuchet.
Wearying under the bracing cold, the group splintered into "tits or tots," with the "tits" heading off to Mary's Club and the "tots" invading Meier and Frank to pass out gifts to children. The Santas were kicked out of the department store, and after a few drinks and a stripper who danced in a Santa beard, both groups reconverged to attack the Holiday Tree in Pioneer Square. Along the way, pedestrians photographed the striking mob of red, while confused drivers honked and shouted things like, "What are you doing?"
Once at the square, the Santas gathered around the tree, setting off firecrackers, which then turned into a huge dance party. The Santa crowd completely took the wind out of a clutch of punk rockers, whose own substandard spectacle (involving a cardboard sign that read, "Viva La Tapatía. Motherfucker.") was immediately eclipsed.
Tirelessly, the red swarm marched on. They were denied entry to Spartacus, as the proprietors claimed that the last time the store was 'Conned, the Santas destroyed it. Unabated, the marching Santas continued to the Eagle Bar, slowly filtering in as each Santa showed their ID to the bouncer. Attrition began to set in, as Santas realized there were simply too many of them to hope for a drink anytime soon. But the core group marched on, across freeways and neighborhoods, to spread their spectacle of drunken irreverence to all whom they encountered—at least until the bars closed.
For more information on SantaCon and the Portland chapter of the Cacophony Society, check out www.portland.cacophony.org.